YEREVAN, ARMENIA (AP) — Fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces flared up again on Thursday on the South Caucasus nations’ shared border, with both sides blaming the other for the attacks that extended the worst outbreak of hostilities between the two countries in years.
In a statement that reflected the potential for the conflict’s escalation, Azerbaijan warned it could strike Armenia’s nuclear power plant if the Armenian forces launched an attack on a strategic water reservoir in Azerbaijan.
“The Armenian side mustn’t forget that the state-of-the-art missile systems our army has are capable of launching a precision strike on the Metsamor nuclear power plant, and that would be a huge tragedy for Armenia,” Azerbaijani Defense Ministry spokesman Vagif Dargyakhly said in a statement.
The Soviet-built nuclear power plant is located close to Armenia’s border with Turkey, a close ally of Azerbaijan.
Armenian military spokesman Artsrun Hovhannisyan said Armenia had brought the Azerbaijani statement to the attention of its international partners and expects them to strongly condemn it. He noted that Armenian officials have never made threats to strike civilian facilities in Azerbaijan.
Armenia’s Foreign Ministry denounced the Azerbaijani threat as “genocidal”.
The two neighbours have been locked in conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, a region of Azerbaijan that has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since a war there ended in 1994. International efforts to settle the conflict have stalled, and clashes have been frequent.
The latest outbreak of fighting in the northern section of the border began on Sunday and so far has left at least 17 people dead. Azerbaijan said it lost 12 service members and one civilian, and Armenia said four of its troops were killed and 20 others wounded.
Both sides also reported that dozens of enemy troops were killed, but the competing claims couldn’t be independently verified.
The current outburst of fighting appears to be the most serious spike in hostilities since 2016 when scores were killed in four days of fighting.
After a lull in fighting on Wednesday, the conflict resumed with new vigour on Thursday. Armenia’s Defence Ministry said Azerbaijani forces launched a cross-border attack targetting its military positions early on Thursday and were rebuffed.
Ministry spokeswoman Shushan Stepanyan said the Armenian military allowed Azerbaijan to collect the bodies of its soldiers killed during the raid, adding that Azerbaijani troops already had evacuated over 10 bodies.
Stepanyan also asserted that the Azerbaijani military shelled several villages in Tavush province with heavy artillery.
Azerbaijan’s Defence Ministry dismissed the Armenian statement as a “disinformation”.
It said the Armenian military attacked Azerbaijani forces on Thursday morning, shelling several settlements with large-calibre weapons.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev fired his Foreign Minister on Thursday, accusing him of failing to duly defend the nation’s interests amid the conflict.